The annual free agent frenzy which takes place early in July has never been the best time of the year for the New Jersey Devils. In the past, they have lost some of their top players including Scott Niedermayer and Zach Parise to other teams whose packages were bigger. Sure, they won the bidding war for Russian top gun Ilya Kovalchuk, but it cost them in fines and a first round draft pick in 2014 because the powers that be in the NHL felt they were trying to circumvent the salary cap.
To make matters worse this summer, the team’s finances are an issue again. The organization has found itself on the financial pages more than the sports pages in recent weeks. Rumors about a change in ownership are loud as is the talk about debt. Even the team’s future Hall of Fame goaltender, Martin Brodeur is more than a bit concerned that the uncertainty will scare away some of the potential hot shots the Devils need to attract when the door opens on the free agent market at noon on July 5.
“You have to be concerned,” Brodeur said in an interview in the Star Ledger earlier this week. “Not financially or anything, but the direction of the team when you have stuff that is up in the air. I don’t know anything about what is going on, but there is still information out there about us having difficulties once again. We’re going through free agency. When you have an organization that doesn’t look too stable, it’s kind of a tough thing. It shouldn’t, because everything will be fine eventually. Other teams have had to go through the same thing, but it’s not a good thing.”
However, General Manager Lou Lamoriello disputes the claims, saying the Devils’ financial foundation is on solid ground and points to the acquisition of goaltender Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks as proof.
“It’s an indication that we’re pushing forward,” Lamoriello rationalized in the Star Ledger over the weekend.
Well, of course he is going to say that. He’s not going to make the situation sound any more dire than it already does. Unfortunately, it is coming at a time when the Devils really need to attract higher end players who can help get the team back on track after missing postseason action for two of the last three years.
Lamoriello stressed on Tom Gulitti’s Fire and Ice Blog that the Devils will not be on the sidelines when the puck drops on the free agent frenzy in two days, saying “We’re participating as much as anybody.”
What a shocker that their priority is going to be adding some offense. That’s certainly a good idea since the club couldn’t buy a goal in the second half of the lockout shortened season.
“That’s something we’ve always talked about that we’d like to add,” Lamoriello explained in the interview. “We’ll look at anything, but there’s no question (adding offense) will be a focus.”
The usually tight-mouthed GM would not say if the team was interviewing any players during this two day ‘talk’ phase where teams can have conversations with perspective free agents. However, no one can ink a deal until high noon July 5.
Rumors have the Devils talking to former Turnpike rival Danny Briere of the Philadelphia Flyers. Briere is reportedly speaking to eight teams which may or may not include the Devils.
“I’m not going to talk about any players,” Lamoriello said.
Teams have a tendency to overpay during free agency which the Devils are not necessarily in a position to do. A change in ownership could be just what the doctor ordered for the ailing club.
The question is whether or not Lamoriello can do the hard sell when it comes to attracting the big fish. In the past, he has let the reputation of the Devils speak for itself. They have three Stanley Cups, five trips to the finals as well as numerous division titles. The organization used to be described as a perennial powerhouse, but now you hear words like rebuilding.
Lamoriello cannot stay ‘status quo’ as he is fond of saying. The Devils need to make changes and big ones, so hopefully they have the cash to bankroll it because most free agents are looking for one thing: money.